At some point, we’ve all witnessed a violent movie scene that comes off a bit too painful-looking, a bit too terrifying, and altogether a bit too … real.
Feeling safely assured that even the most convincing onscreen outbursts and atrocities are actually just illusions of movie magic, we might wonder, “How did they do that?”
But in the four following cases, freaked-out film viewers felt like actual crime witnesses and concluded, “They must have REALLY done that!” before contacting law enforcement.
Directors: Horacio Fredriksson, Michael Findlay, Simon Nuchtern
Cast: Tina Austin, Brian Cary, Enrique Larratelli
The grimy grindhouse shocker Snuff began its uniquely weird life as Slaughter (1971), a shoddy, Manson-inspired gore flick shot on the fly in Argentina by married exploitation movie mavens Michael and Roberta Findlay.
Slaughter turned out to be too flaccid even for the fleapit theater circuit and would (and should) have been forgotten as a Manson cash-in also-ran. But then, five years later, inspiration struck B-movie distributor Allan Shackleton.
“Snuff films” raged as a popularly salacious topic in sensationalist mid-1970s media. Talk abounded regarding movies being made in which people were actually killed on camera. Afterward, perverse audiences allegedly paid top dollar to watch the murder movies in underground screenings.
In addition, snuff films were said to primarily be filmed in South America and that the New York Mafia was importing and exhibiting them around the city.Shackleton, considering all those supremely hype-ready components, thereby dusted off Slaughter. He then shot a five-minute tacked-on ending in which a film crew “murders” an actress, and unleashed the whole mess as Snuff in January 1976, promoting it with the outrage-assuring tagline, “Shot in South America … where life is CHEAP!”
Women Against Pornography, a New York activist group that found plenty to be active against in ’70s Times Square, protested Snuff wherever it played. Shackleton is rumored to have even tipped them off, in keeping with the old B-movie promotional motto, “Pickets sell tickets!”
Newspapers and TV stations covered the Snuff controversy, pressuring the police in both New York and Los Angeles to do … something. The fact that the actual “murder” sequence is laughably fake didn’t matter; precious few respectable citizens would go to see Snuff anyway. Regardless, the public wanted an answer.
Amid the scandal, New York District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau opened an investigation. NYPD officers contacted Shackleton and tracked down the actress who “dies” on camera. Morgenthau actually held a press conference to announce that the woman was alive and that the crime onscreen emanated from “camera trickery.” The exposé of the phony fatality only further guaranteed that the legend of Snuff would live on — and it does. [Coming Soon]
Director: Ruggero Deodato
Cast: Robert Kerman, Francesca Ciardi, Perry Pirkanen
One of the most grueling and grotesque cinematic nightmares to ever stain movie screens, Cannibal Holocaust is the original “found footage” horror film. It purports to depict movies shot by New Yorkers of varying degrees of sleaziness as they run afoul of torture-loving, flesh-eating natives in South America.
In the course of the movie, atrocities that include rape, flaying, castration, and, to be sure, cannibalism all rain down on the outsiders (who prove to be the real “savages”). Every second is rendered utterly, disgustingly convincing by Italian shock director Ruggero Deodato and his visual effects team. An abundance of actual oncamera animal killings add to the overall upsetting impact.
Shortly after Cannibal Holocaust opened in Deodato’s native Italy, authorities arrested the director and charged him with murder. No way, they figured, could the murders in that movie have been faked.
In particular, the court cited the film’s depiction of actress Francesca Ciardi — who is shown posted on a 10-foot-high wooden stake, which enters her body from one end and emerges out another — as being “impossible” to falsify.
Deodato’s own marketing gimmick further complicated the matter. The actors’ contracts specified that they stay out of the media for an extended period following Cannibal Holocaust’s release, in order to add to the notion that perhaps they really did get eaten in the jungle.
Once on trial for his life, though, Deodato relented and paraded the performers into court. He also carefully explained the pole-through-the-holes effect.
The court cleared Deodato of murder charges but convicted him for animal cruelty. Authorities also banned Cannibal Holocaust from being shown in Italy for the ensuing three years. [The Guardian]
GUINEA PIG: FLOWER OF FLESH AND BLOOD (1985)
Director: Hideshi Hino
Cast: Hideshi Hino, Kiara Yugao
Japan’s extreme horror Guinea Pig film series is an exercise in audience excruciation. Up-close torture, sexual sadism, disease, madness, and bloodletting are the largely plotless movies’ stock in trade.
In 1991, a VHS copy of Guinea Pig: Flower of Flesh and Blood landed in the hands of Charlie Sheen. The actor, wigged out by what he saw and convinced it was authentic, contacted the FBI and turned the tape over to the police.
In short order, agents contacted underground horror magazine publisher Chas Balun, who was then distributing the Guinea Pig videos in the United States. Balun explained that it was just a horror movie, and sent the feds a copy of the documentary Guinea Pig Two: The Making of Guinea Pig One.
Balun got off the hook, and Charlie Sheen went on to otherwise occupy the authorities. [Uproxx]
NEW TERMINAL HOTEL aka DO NOT DISTURB (2010)
Director: BC Furtney
Cast: Corey Haim, Tiffany Shepis, Stephen Geoffreys
As a movie, New Terminal Hotel is a so-so revenge-themed scare saga that is most notable as the last major performance by troubled former teen idol Corey Haim.
As a news story, though, New Terminal Hotel generated headlines after Pennsylvania firefighters responded to a small blaze in the Washington Hotel, where the action was shot. They happened upon a room splattered with blood and skin, and littered with broken bottles, and called the cops.
Local Police Chief J.R. Blyth emerged from the location and announced it was “the most grisly murder scene” he’d witnessed in his 35 years on the job. Officers immediately launched an investigation and, eight hours later, sheepishly announced that the carnage was just a movie set.
Washington Hotel owner explained that he left the mess as it was in case the filmmakers wanted to return for re-shoots. He also joked about liking that the hotel had a “scare room.” [TheMarySue]
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Main image: “Snuff” video release poster [promotional image]